MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 1 June: David
Hirst, author of the classic THE GUN AND THE OLIVE BRANCH, is among a
handful of senior Anglo-American journalists who know the Middle East
extraordinarily well. Hirst has been reporting from the region for
literally a lifetime. And whenever he puts his words on paper he does
so in an extraordinarily authentic and insightful way. Hirst's
fingering of the Israelis as substantially responsible for what has
happened is on target even as American news organizations continue to
fear reporting this critical part of the overall story.
PAST POLICIES LEAD TO THE BAD PRESENT
PRESENT POLICIES ARE LEADING TO A WORSE FUTURE
Bush administration is playing dangerous games in Middle East
Iraq, Palestine, Iran - the plans for 'regime change' by the
pro-Israeli US neocons is threatening a mega-crisis in the region that
will be felt around the world
By David Hirst
THE GUARDIAN , LONDON
Wednesday, May 31, 2006,Page 9
Patients with chronic kidney disease dying for lack of their routine
dialysis, 165,000 employees of the Palestine Authority unpaid for two-
and-a-half months, women selling their jewelry for fuel or food ... the
"humanitarian crisis" of the West Bank and Gaza is not a Darfur. And
what most shocks Arabs and Muslims is that it stems from a conscious
political decision by the world's only superpower.
First, they say, you give us Iraq, now on the brink of civil war. Then this: the starving of a whole people.
The psychological and strategic linkage between Iraq and Palestine is
far from new. But its latest, most intense phase began with the US
invasion of Iraq -- conceived by the [George W.] Bush administration's
pro-Israeli neoconservatives as the first great step in their
region-wide scheme for "regime change" and "democratization," whose
consummation was to be an Arab-Israeli settlement.
Indeed -- as professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argue in
their now celebrated study, The Israel Lobby -- there very likely
wouldn't have been an invasion at all but for Israel and, above all,
its partisans inside the US.
But it had always been crystal clear that the more authentic any
democracy Arabs or Palestinians did come to enjoy, US-inspired or not,
the more their conception of a settlement would collide with the
US-Israeli one. The point was swiftly proved, in the wake of Hamas's
assumption of power, when Bush declared: "We support democracy, but
that doesn't mean we have to support governments elected as a result of
And his administration set about engineering Palestinian "regime change" in reverse.
Its strategy found more or less willing accomplices -- Europeans, Arab
governments, the Palestinians themselves. But it was always going to be
a perilous one; the more vigorously it was pursued in the face of the
opposition that it was bound to encounter, the more likely it was to
make of Palestine a crucible of trouble for its own people, the region
and the world -- very much like the one that other quasi-colonial
Western intervention had already made of Iraq.
The idea was to get the Palestinians, through collective punishment, to
repudiate the very people they had just elected. Some do blame Hamas.
But most of those blame the US much more. If anything, sanctions have
had the opposite effect from that intended, encouraging people to rally
round the new government. Buoyed by its own popularity, on top of its
electoral legitimacy, Hamas won't easily relinquish power -- "not
without a war," said Iyyad Sarraj, a Gaza psychologist.
Even if the US did succeed in bringing it down, it would, like the
overthrow of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, be a catastrophic
kind of success -- plunging Palestine, too, into the chaos and
internecine strife that is the antithesis of the modern, democratic,
pro-Western Middle East order it is trying to build.
It is clear that, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' bombshell
proposal for a referendum on the nature of a final peace raising the
political stakes and with skirmishes in Gaza raising the military ones,
war between Hamas and Fatah is eminently possible. It is far from clear
that the US' "side" could win.
"If Fatah couldn't fight Hamas while it was still in power," said
General Ilan Paz, the former head of Israel's "civil administration" in
the territories, "how could it gain control with Hamas in power and
Furthermore, chaos in the territories would open the way to militants,
jihadists and suicide bombers from the rest of the world, just as it
did in Iraq. Iran, the non-Arab country that is now the main state
patron of Arab radicalism, was quicker than any Arab government to
offer money to the new Hamas regime. An intrinsic part of its wider
strategic and nuclear ambitions, Palestine now ranks among its top
Abbas says that Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are already active in Gaza. From
where, if not from such outsiders, have come the long-range Katyusha
missiles that have begun to target southern Israel from Gaza? And if
Hamas were driven from office, it would go underground again, resuming,
with a vengeance, the "resistance" it has suspended.
As for the Arabs, they would be at least as subject to the fallout from
Palestine as they are from Iraq's. Their discredited regimes hardly
know what to fear more: the example of a Hamas democratically installed
or undemocratically ousted. The first would encourage the ascension of
their own Islamists. The civil war liable to result from the second
would arouse even more dangerous passions among them. Broadly speaking,
Hamas has Arab, especially Islamist, public opinion on its side, and
the more the regimes defer to the US in its anti-Hamas campaign, the
greater discredit they will fall into.
For Rami Khouri, a leading Beirut columnist, the Palestine cause risks
being transformed from a "national" into a "civilizational" one, with
"potentially dangerous linkages between events in Palestine-Israel and
the rest of the Middle East."
"Hundreds of thousands of young people will feel duped and betrayed," Khouri said.
"The wellspring of support for Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood-style
democratic engagement will slowly dry up in favor of more intense armed
struggle. They will stop wasting time trying to redress grievances
through peaceful, democratic politics or diplomacy ... Bringing down
the Hamas-led Palestinian government will bring further radicalization,
resistance and terrorism across the region," he said.
Well aware of this resonance, the Palestinian finance minister, Omar
Abdul Razeq, warned: "The entire region will catch fire if the
Palestinian people are pushed to a situation where they have nothing to
Suddenly this month the Bush administration seemed to grasp something
of the perils it is courting. And those US-engineered privations of
Gaza were too scandalous to ignore. At a meeting of the Quartet (the
EU, the US, the UN and Russia), it offered US$10 million in emergency
medical aid. The largesse was paltry and grudging, but at least it
seemed to indicate that Washington had given up hope of bringing about
immediate "regime change" via economic ruin.
Gideon Levy, a pro-Palestinian Israeli commentator, was even moved to say: "Hamas is winning."
Hardly. For the only substantive way in which it could be said to be
doing that would be if the US started drawing the right conclusions
from this spectacularly unwelcome result of Arab democratization -- the
most important of which is that, were it not for US policies, Hamas
would never have won the elections.
But that would require a fundamental, revolutionary change of heart. In
the opinion of Walt and Mearsheimer, the extraordinary US attachment to
Israel, that moral and strategic "burden" stemming from the "unmatched
power" of the lobby, makes it impossible any time soon.
So the fear must now be that, long before such a thing could happen,
the Middle East's "dangerous linkages" will assert themselves even more
dangerously than before, that those two ongoing crises -- Palestine and
Iraq, which the attachment did so much to engender -- will be joined,
and fused into a single mega-crisis, by a third: when, on its protege's
behalf, the Bush administration goes to war against Iran.